Determining the pH of any particular food or beverage is not so cut and dry, or one size or variety fits all, as most pH charts out there would have you believe. There are many variables to consider like food preparation, quality, quantity, origin, mind-set, metabolism, HCL production, microbiome pH, and food combinations.
Conventional products in general will be more acid forming than organic products due to the pesticide residues, lower nutrient content in many cases, and the potential for GMO’s.
Poor quality oils will be more acidic than quality ones. GMO, processed, heated vegetable oils, highly processed foods consisting chiefly of oxidized vegetable oils, refined sugars, simple starches, and various chemicals and fillers, are highly metabolically acidifying and should be avoided if possible. These over-processed nutrient-less foods will actually rob the body of alkalizing minerals in order to process them. These foods can also form very harmful free radical clusters known as AGE’s (link article) The exception would be properly prepared minimally processed organic whole foods without the toxic chemical fillers, additives, and preservatives. http://www.keytohealthclinic.com/alkalinediet.php
The higher acid foods like meats and eggs have many benefits for your health and certainly do not need to be avoided because they are acidic. They just need to be balanced with plenty of neutral to alkaline forming foods like greens and vegetables, unless you are plant based vegan or vegetarian of course. It’s fairly simple.
It is not recommended that the types of foods you consume be solely influenced by a pH based food chart with no further considerations. There are many circumstances or factors to consider like the quality, toxicity, preparation, and nutrient content of a food, as well as food intolerances, current metabolism, and stomach and intestinal pH. A pH food chart cannot be accurate without taking all these aspects into consideration. I have yet to see a pH chart that does.
Certain people will have adverse reactions to what you would consider healthy foods. What is healthy for some, may inflame another. When inflammation occurs and foods are not properly digested they become more acid forming despite what any pH chart may claim. An example is beans, especially heavier dense ones like kidney beans. If you were raised in a culture that consumed beans regularly, you will have the genetic capacity to. If not, your body may not manufacture certain enzymes or probiotics necessary to process or adapt to these foods, in which case supplementation may be an option. Preparation is also a major factor for optimal digestibility as seen below in Preparation is Key. Even night shade vegetables and high lectin (anti-nutrient) grains can be problematic for some but not others, especially those with rheumatoid arthritis!
Allergens work the same way. If you consume foods that you are intolerant or sensitive to like gluten, albumen in egg whites, corn, soy, nuts, etc., then you will experience inflammation at various levels and these foods will be far more acidic to the body. In more extreme cases, but certainly not uncommon these days, your gut can become too permeable over time, leaking toxins, bacteria, and undigested foods into the system. This can lead to systemic inflammation, autoimmunity, neurological complications, and many other conditions seriously throwing off pH levels! Note: many common allergenic foods are genetically modified and/or sprayed with high levels of toxic pesticides like wheat, corn, and soy, or high in mold or mold byproducts like nuts, especially peanuts. So in many cases it may be possible to eliminate these foods for a few months, then reintroduce them in organic form after the immune system is re-educated. This is safest when enacted under the supervision of a holistic practitioner.
PREPARATION IS KEY
Often times it is how foods are prepared that make them more acid or alkaline forming. Incomplete digestion of damaged or denatured proteins in processed and overcooked foods can initiate gas, bloating, inflammation, intestinal imbalances, immune over reactivity, and allergies, while in turn increasing the production of acid waste. For instance, if you overcook your meat it is much more acid forming as proteins become damaged, free radical forming AGE’s can be produced, some nutrients are destroyed, and the food becomes much less digestible creating toxic bacterial by-products.
The same goes for improperly prepared grains, beans, seeds, and nuts. These foods need to be soaked for a period of time, sprouted much better, and better yet fermented to deactivate anti-nutrients like phytates, oxalates, and lectins as well as enzyme inhibitors that would make these foods less digestible and more acid forming. Some people will still be sensitive to these anti-nutrients even when prepared properly, but certainly not as many.
In general, properly prepared raw foods like fruits and vegetables are going to be more alkaline forming than cooked foods simply because the enzymes are still intact and alive in raw foods. Unless you have low stomach acid, imbalanced intestinal flora, and a clogged colon that would make it hard for your body to break down and process the fiber, causing discomfort and potentially more issues. So cooked food would be recommended along with proper supplementation with things like enzymes and probiotics, and maybe HCL depending on the problem, until the issues are resolved. Then raw foods should become a big part of your diet as raw fiber will no longer be an issue.
QUALITY ALWAYS MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Organic food, for instance, would be less acid forming than conventional food due not only to the higher nutrient content found in organic food, but the lack of acid forming toxic pesticide residues and GMO’s. Organic, grass fed, free range, higher omega 3 animal products will surely have a less acidic effect on the body than conventional products known for breeding confined animals, given GMO, damaged omega 6, pesticide laden feed, often times spiked with antibiotics and growth hormone. Conventional pasteurized dairy, for example, is far more acidic than organic, with organic raw dairy being the optimal choice for the same reasons.
Vegetable oils (processed seed oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and safflower oil), are highly susceptible to oxidation so quality makes a tremendous difference in how acid forming they will be when metabolized in the body. Vegetable oils like corn and soy, for example, are found in the majority of commercially processed foods, and used in most restaurants. These oils are often oxidized during their production, and when heated these most often genetically modified, heavily pesticide sprayed foods, turn into excessively free radical forming, inflammatory, acid forming foods! (link to soon to be fats e-book or article) Vegetable oils are also high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids which can cause inflammation when disproportionate to omega 3’s which is extremely common. All seed oils, and yes even olive oil, are subject to oxidation as they are heat and light sensitive, so the quality of these oils and how you use them make all the difference in how acid forming they are to the body.
LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT COFFEE
The average commercial coffee is highly acidic, with a metabolizing pH as low as 4! Conventionally grown coffee beans are known to have one of the highest pesticide sprayed crops. In fact, up to 250 pounds of chemical fertilizers are sprayed per acre of conventional coffee. The beans are also subject to mycotoxins like aflatoxins (among the most carcinogenic substances), by-products of mold that are hard to eliminate even with the extreme use of toxic chemicals. Organic coffee beans, although not sprayed with pesticides, can also contain this mold excretion as well. This liver damaging, cancer causing substance can also be found on peanuts. Shell free peanuts and peanut butter should be avoided on a regular basis unless tested aflatoxin free. (find a brand to sell) So the quality of the coffee you drink makes a MAJOR difference in how toxic and acid forming it is to the body. Certain high quality coffee beans can be brewed with a pH that exceeds 7.0. Overall though, coffee tends to be high in caffeine, which is a diuretic, so it can be extremely dehydrating requiring a great deal of water to bring the body back to balance, which most people don’t consider. So even when a high quality coffee is packed full of anti-oxidants, has no mycotoxins, and no pesticide residues, it should still be consumed conservatively, along with sufficient hydration to retain its full range of benefits.
The foods that you combine in any given meal can also create intestinal disturbances and make the foods more acid forming. For instance, combining fruit with protein can cause the food to putrefy and ferment. The reason for this is that the fruit digests fairly quickly whereas the protein takes much longer to process often causing indigestion, bloating, excessive gas, less nutrient absorption, and acid reflux. This is the reason why I do not add fruit to my protein shakes. I drink a fruit smoothie first then 30 min- 1 hour later I drink my protein shake. The exception is bananas as they contain more starch and therefore digest slower than other fruits. Low sugar berries can work as well.
Combining concentrated, slow digesting, heavy protein, high fat foods like meat with fruit should always be avoided. Rice, breads, and cereals do not combine well with fruit either for most people. Starches and concentrated proteins like the all-American hamburger can also create digestive complications, especially with refined breads, so it may be best to go bun-less. Although many people would rather deal with the temporary discomfort than go that route. Less often the better. Consuming salad prior to eating a protein rich meal is always best to start to stimulate digestive juices. If you consume the salad afterwards, the high alkalinity, just like too much water during or after a meal, may dilute some of the HCL. Either way, before or after the meal, the salad promotes alkalinity.
Remember, it’s what you consume on a regular basis that matters most. If any food or combination of foods is causing you continuous gastrointestinal distress it would be wise not to eat or combine those foods that are giving you trouble. If you do choose to eat these hard to digest combined foods here and there, just make sure you take digestive enzymes, probiotics, and maybe a tbs. of cider vinegar prior to the meal to make the job a little easier on the body and lessen the impact. There are many other food combining rules on this site if you are interested in pursuing the topic further. http://www.thewolfeclinic.com/acidosis-and-food-combining/
STRESS AND EATING DON’T MIX WELL
Eating too fast can cause indigestion, preventing the food from breaking down so well, thus less nutrients are absorbed. Eating while overly stressed, nervous, anxious, or angry can keep the body in a fight or flight mode, overstimulating the sympathetic nervous system. When this happens adrenaline is released, steering blood flow towards the heart, lungs, and brain to prepare for potential danger instead of generating blood flow towards digestive organs. Thus, the parasympathetic nervous system required for “rest and digest” is under-stimulated, causing indigestion, malabsorption of nutrients, and instigating intestinal inflammatory conditions like leaky gut and IBS. In this scenario foods can become much more acid forming and even toxic. For this reason alone, it is extremely important to learn to manage stress levels as many digestive orders are stress induced. Before consuming a meal, it is best to take some deep breaths, relax, pray, give thanks, and remain present. This simple practice can make a considerable difference in the digestive process, the acid load of the food, and your overall health and wellness.
PARTIAL OXIDATION OF FATS AND CARBS
Consuming nutrient-less refined and overly-processed foods forces the body to use its own mineral stores to process the acids and digest them, making these types of foods much more acid forming. When vitamins and minerals (co-enzymes) and enzymes (that require co-enzymes to function) are lacking in highly acidic nutrient deficient bodies, cells can accumulate partially metabolized by-products of glucose and fat, increasing the acid load that needs to be neutralized or buffered until it can be escorted from the body. As mineral stores are replaced with real whole foods, pH levels can begin to rebalance, enzyme function becomes more efficient, and metabolic function can return to normal healthy levels with full oxidation capacity, promoting both fat loss and optimal health.
People with a weak carbohydrate or blood sugar metabolism, like with obesity, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, very low carb dieters, pre-diabetics, as well as uncontrolled and undiagnosed diabetics, may only partially oxidize glucose and/or fats producing excessive lactic, keto, acetic, and other acid byproducts. When the cells can’t get access to glucose, or there is none present, the cells will partially burn fatty acids for energy producing ketones, which in excess can accumulate excessive acids. Additionally, when the metabolism is off and the aerobic Krebs cycle malfunctions or is not accessible, lactic acid is overproduced, so it cannot be recycled efficiently, and accumulates in the blood and tissues instead. (link to Krebs) Diabetics can develop what is known as ketoacidosis, when cells break down fats and proteins more rapidly, being that there is no direct access to glucose, which can even be deadly in some cases.
When incomplete oxidation of sugars occurs, the sugars can become acid forming even when consuming otherwise normally alkaline forming fruits. Any excess of glucose may only be partly metabolized leaving behind an acid residue. In healthier functioning people carbohydrates and fats for the most part are completely oxidized to CO2 and water, although fats may leave behind some keto acids as they contain a great deal more carbon than carbohydrates. Amping up mineral stores with low sugar fruits, vegetables, greens, and supplements can help correct the imbalance, while cutting back on high sugar fruits temporarily, and eliminating added sugars, and refined foods.
Keep in mind: even though certain fruits may fall into the higher sugar category, it would be better to eat an extra piece of high sugar/fructose fruit of course than an extra serving of strong acid meat to stay in balance for most individuals.
PASTEURIZED VS RAW DAIRY
The absence of lactase enzymes in pasteurized dairy can also create excessive acidity for some people creating excessive mucus and acids from partial oxidation. The distortion of the casein protein in dairy products through pasteurization (high heat) and homogenization (emulsification) can also create this problem, even leading to leaky gut, allergies, autoimmune conditions, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Refined sugars, flours, and wheat products are also culprits. For people with gluten intolerance or even gluten sensitivity, wheat, especially conventional, can be highly inflammatory, acid forming, and damaging.
LOW HCL (STOMACH ACID) AND INTESTINAL DYSBIOSIS
Low stomach acid is fairly common, especially in older adults. It’s lack can make a considerable difference in the pH of a food or beverage. If you are not producing enough HCL, stomach pH will become too alkaline and you will not be able to digest your food very well at all. Digestive and systemic pH levels will be adversely affected as well detrimentally over time. Intestinal dysbiosis can result with or without adequate HCL and besides throwing off pH levels, can have serious consequences both locally and systemically. Link HCL-digestive and also to article on LOW HCL
RAW FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Humans do not produce the enzymes needed to break down cellulose from insoluble fiber. While consuming insoluble fiber is beneficial for preventing digestive disorders and colon cancer, it can create problems when digestive issues are already present, or when the colon is backed up. This can create inflammation and prevent nutrients from being absorbed, making otherwise alkaline forming foods more acid forming. I have had quite a few clients with these issues. They can be so eager to get healthy and become frustrated when they can’t digest raw vegetables and fruit very well. When no serious digestive conditions are present, the remedy can be as simple as cleansing the colon, taking probiotic rich foods or supplements, and taking powdered greens. Taking digestive enzymes that have cellulase can also help considerably.
If you are not used to eating raw produce it is always a good idea to start out slow and build up to higher amounts. Blending also helps to break down the cellulose. If you are experiencing symptoms from IBS or Crohn’s disease, or any inflammatory digestive conditions, raw vegetables especially can cause gas and bloating. Even steamed veggies can be problematic in these cases, but more tolerable. Making soups and broths could be beneficial as it breaks down the cellulose further or eliminates it completely, while making nutrients more bioavailable. After the gut is healed, raw and steamed vegetables can be added back gradually into the diet. It also may be best to cook cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale, as they can be very hard to digest, even under normal circumstances.
Fructose and fructans malabsorption is also an issue for some, especially those individuals that already have digestive disorders, leading to increased acidity/inflammation. -link article fructose/fructans malabsorption.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, and that goes for pH food charts as well. All the above variables need to be considered if you are to accurately determine the PRAL or NAE of what you are consuming. Using a pH chart as a reference, especially for beginners, can be very helpful, when working to adopt and maintain a pH balanced anti-inflammatory diet. Under normal circumstances, the general idea is to consume a balanced whole food diet, headlining alkaline forming vegetables and some fruits. When cleansing and getting rid of acid buildup, neutral to alkaline forming foods should be the focal point of the diet at about 80-95%. As far as maintenance, your diet should contain around 70% neutral-alkaline forming foods give or take 5% depending on the individual. If you are under abnormally stressful conditions, it would be wise to increase the amount of alkaline forming foods, and replenishing alkaline minerals like potassium and magnesium that are lost at a much faster rate under adverse conditions.
IF YOU HAVE REGULAR BLOATING AND DISCOMFORT AFTER CONSUMING ANY FOOD OR BEVERAGE QUESTION IT! Do not ignore it or turn to toxic antacids that will further complicate the problem. Find out what the issue is, and adjust your diet at least temporarily, until the issue is corrected. Supplementation can also be extremely beneficial, and often times required, to reverse the damage and correct imbalances. Consulting with a nutritionist, health coach, and/or naturopathic doctor would be very wise, especially if you have a pre-existing condition, are not very disciplined, or if you cannot resolve the problem on your own. Even though insurance may not cover these services, practitioners are more than willing to work with your primary doctor to order any testing necessary through your current provider to minimize costs. Your health is the most valuable asset you have, don’t neglect it or put it off! Be proactive not reactive!
REMEMBER: it doesn’t matter is you follow a Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian, or any other lifestyle program, everyone needs to keep their pH levels in check for optimal health and wellness!